CHEESY PASTA CASSEROLE
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
1 1/8 pounds (500 g) sun-ripened cherry tomatoes, ideally from Montecalvo Irpino
1/2 pound (220 g) mixed pasta from Flumari (in the Province of Avellino)
A rib of Gesualdo (Province of Avellino) celery, finely chopped
1/2 pound (220 g) potatoes, ideally from Montoro Superiore (Frazione di Banzano, Irpinia), peeled and cubed
A Cipolla Ramata (coppery onion) from Montoro, peeled and chopped, and Lello insists it be ramata, not white or purple
8 basil leaves from san Michele di Serino — the basil, he says, that Irpinians “exported” to Liguria
A half cup of extravirgin olive oil, ideally from the Ravece cultivar
A dusting of Carmasciano Pecorino (One could use quality Romano if one had to)
10 bits of Quanciale from Sturno (Guanciale is cured pork jowl, one could also use flat pancetta, and dice a single 3mm (1/8 inch) slice
A half pound to a pound (2-400 g) smoked Caciocavallo Podolico, cubed — the amount depends upon your appetite and how cold it is outside
2 quarts (2 l) vegetable broth, made as you prefer, simmering
Before the procedure, a note: Caciocavallo Podolico is a cow’s milk craft cheese from the Irpinia region; it is firm, and fairly elastic when young, becoming sharper and more crumbly with age, and will soften when heated. Tradition dictates the forms, which are shaped like gourds, be made in pairs that are tied together with a string and slung over a pole to age, hence the name — Cacio (cheese) (a) Cavallo, astride, in this case astride a pole. If you cannot find smoked Caciocavallo Podolico use either regular Caciocavallo or if need beProvolone from a small form (provolone forms vary tremendously in size, from small to enormous).
Returning to the procedure, heat the olive oil in a broad fairly deep earthenware pot. Saute the guanciale, and when it has begun to brown add the onion and the tomatoes, and after a few minutes the diced potatoes, celery and basil. Simmer the mixture as if you were making an “easy” sauce, and after about 15 minutes add the vegetable broth.
Bring the mixture almost to a boil and add the pasta.
Cook the pasta over a gentle flame, adding only a little more broth if necessary; you will end up with a very thick mixture of pasta and potatoes. I would add that you should occasionally give the pot a brisk shake, or even gently stir the contents, lest the mixture stick and burn.
To bring it to perfection, let it rest for 2 hours, then stir in the cubes of smoked Caciocavallo Podolico, and dust all with the Pecorino. Heat through for 15 minutes in a preheated 300 F (150 C) oven, and you’ll enjoy the world’s best pasta and potato casserole!
Food – Wine paring: The structure, complexity, and perfect balance reached by the Cantine Contrada’s 2003 Fiano Di Avellino make it perfect for this dish, though one could also opt for a Fiano Minutolo.